I grew up in Italy, 2 hours from the heart of Catholicism. It was known for two things: hedonism and legalism.
For example, Carnevale kicks off right before Lent, as people will seek the last chance at unbridled fun, avoiding rules, and doing as they please. Much of the origins of Carnevale have to do with avoiding the normal social order, debauchery, and unbridled freedom.
In short, hedonism.
Next up is Lent, which is known for a period of time, usually 40 days, in which someone gives up something.
So the hedonist cycle and the legalist cycle are back to back. To be clear, one can celebrate Carnevale without engaging in debauchery, just as someone could engage in Lent without being legalistic.
And yet, no one can deny that Carnevale is known for unbridled freedom, while Lent is known for some type of self restraint, often done unnecessarily and often done to obtain the attention of others.
In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Mr. Wordly Wiseman does not refer Christian to Vanity Fair and its hedonism and pleasures. No, he refers Christian to the Mountain of Morality to visit Legality. Unlike Vanity Fair, the Mountain of Morality is not fun. Why would he send Christian there?
(Mr. Wordly Wiseman is wise in the sinful ways of the world and temporarily leads Pilgrim astray. Vanity Fair is famously known for being a city full of frivolous pleasures that despises pilgrims who love righteousness. Mountain of Morality and Legality are … well, let’s just say they are aptly named.)
I suspect the enemy wants to make Christian equate legalism with the true narrow way. Once pilgrims are exhausted with that way, they’ll run to Vanity Fair and want to stay there. If Mr. Worldly Wiseman would have referred Christian to Vanity Fair, it would have been too obvious.
The narrow way is a reference to Matthew 7:13, wherein Jesus warns people to come through the narrow gate, which is constricted, difficult to go through, and rarely used, relatively speaking.
The narrow gate can be difficult for several reasons. It involves repentance from sin, abandoning one’s pride, and the realization one can’t earn salvation through themselves but through Christ.
The only way to salvation is through Christ.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” – John 14:6
Salvation is not some type of balanced way in which one is half legalistic and half hedonistic.
One of the paradoxes of the Christian walk is that it is difficult, yet more joyful. It is fraught with dangers, but ultimately the Christian is safe is Christ’s arms.
The way of grace is through Christ alone.
(Believers can be knocked off track and veer toward legalism, the Apostle Paul indicates. In Galatians 3:2-3 Paul sharply rebukes the Galatians: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”)
Hedonism and legalism are traps to prevent people from coming to Christ and to knock Christians off track.
But they are not enemies. They are actually close friends.